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Intel passes final milestone with software for ORNL supercomputer

A new software system developed for one of the world's most powerful computers is helping researchers at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) obtain answers to questions more quickly than ever.

The software system - called overlapping partitions - was developed by Intel Corporation for ORNL's Intel Paragon XP/S 150 Model Supercomputer. It allows more than one program to run on a single processor, which allows the parallel computer to run higher and lower priority jobs simultaneously.

Installation of the partitioning system, which represents the final milestone of a $16 million contract between ORNL and Intel Corporation, maximizes use of the Paragon, which features 3,096 processors and can perform 150 billion calculations per second.

The Intel-developed overlapping partitions system is far more advanced than methods that merely allow users to equitably share a computer, said Buddy Bland, computer resources manager at ORNL. "That's nothing new," he said. "What is new is the development of a system to simultaneously share 3,000 processors efficiently, automatically and in a highly flexible fashion."

Typically, researchers use ORNL's supercomputer during the day to perform experiments involving a variety of computations - from relatively simple to elaborate. The Paragon performs these jobs in seconds, minutes or hours, depending on their complexity. Meanwhile, "production jobs," such as those required to perform global climate modeling, require days, weeks or months of computing time, Bland said. This new software allows quick access to the Paragon during the day without having to stop all of the longer running production jobs. This increases the computer's efficiency and allows researchers to get more information in less time.

In addition to global climate modeling, other production jobs include those for research in studies of how solids melt, materials calculations and nanotechnology, which involves studying and building machines at the atomic level.

With the newly installed overlapping partitions system, the Paragon is free to perform calculations researchers need quickly during the day and perform the ongoing production jobs at various levels of capacity 24 hours a day.

Ultimately, the Paragon opens opportunities for scientists from across the country in their quest for stronger materials for safer cars, in understanding complex health and medicine problems, in unlocking deep secrets of the universe and, very broadly, bringing the insights of science and the know-how of technology to bear on the needs of the people and the world.

Installation and demonstration of the overlapping partitions system represented the final acceptance criterion for the supercomputer, which was installed in January in ORNL's Center for Computational Sciences (CCS). Funding is provided by DOE's Mathematical, Information and Computational Sciences Division.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.